Irish cricket has lost one of its true gentlemen with the death of Alfie Linehan at the age of 79.
In one of the most distinguished legacies to the local game the retired Downparick farmer captained the international team before turning to administration in the roles of chairman and president of the Northern Cricket Union followed by the presidency of the Irish Cricket Union.
Yet it was where it mattered most , at the grass roots of the game, that Alfie Linehan left his indelible mark.
His devotion to the Downpatrick club and its famous international ground The Meadow was boundless and life-long, from underage player, captain of the club, coach and ultimately chairman and president.
As a batsman his hard-hitting ways over four decades from the 1950s took him to 11 Irish appearances - six of them as captain - in the days when international caps were much less liberally awarded, and his contribution to the success of NCU representative cricket has rarely been equalled.
However, it was success as a club player that, by far, gave Alfie the greatest pleasure and there was much of it.
He either played or captained Downpatrick in five NCU senior league and three senior cup winning sides along with his brother Hugh, another talented batsman whose death at the age of 58 dealt a terrible blow to his younger brother.
In later years it was a source of great pride to Alfie that Hugh’s son Paul was to captain the club and daughter Anne played for Ireland. His wife’s nephew James Cunningham also captained the club.
The great paradox of Alfie Linehan was to be found in his disposition on the field and off it. In the middle, his was a belligerent style, hitting the ball longer than anyone else, compiling his runs in a manner that kept the scorers busy. Yet this domineering , almost bullying, approach belied a gentle man off it: soft spoken, never a word that offended, never a word against him.
Alfie’s contribution to the community extended far beyond the boundaries of the cricket club: in his day he was a member of the NI Sports Council, a director of his local hospital trust and president of Ardglass Golf Club.
Alfie’s friends are legion, none more close than Cecil Walker, that leading light of the Lisburn club. After their playing days, they travelled the world with their wives watching international cricket and storing delightful memories of new friendships, whether tales of the Bodyline era over tea with Harold Larwood at his home in Sydney or many a fond mention by David “Bumble” Lloyd in the commentary box.
Of all that’s been written down the years about Alfie Linehan, one game has been overlooked and yet it speaks more than any of his commitment to Downpatrick.
It was Saturday, August 8, 1970 and Downpatrick were due to play Lurgan. It was also the day of Alfie’s wedding to his beloved Mary. No problem: wedding in the morning, cricket in the afternoon, reception in the evening, off on honeymoon the next day.
Mary was always to be found at Alfie’s side at The Meadow, a tower of strength during recent years of his increasing dementia and the past few months in care with cancer.
My own personal memory of Alfie will always be the toast he invariably delivered at the end of an evening’s conviviality, of which there were many:
May you always walk in sunshine
Slumber warm when night winds blow
May you always live with laughter
For a smile becomes you so.